Texas Tales: Old jokes still bring new laughs

By Mike Cox, Texas Tales columnist

Ever wonder what jokes made your great-grandparents laugh?

Good humor is supposed to be timeless, but paging through a nearly century-old joke book called “Laugh Again: Short Stories and Amusing Anecdotes for a Dull Hour” shows that not all jokes stand the test of time. For one thing, a hundred years ago the concept of political correctness had not been invented. Minorities, religions and ethnic groups were fair game.

Still, some of the “amusing anecdotes” from this 1913 book do offer some smiles:

Holding up a globe before a bright little boy in school, the teacher asked what country is opposite to us on the globe.
“I don’t know, sir,” was the reply.
“Well now,” pursued the teacher, “if I were to bore a hole through the earth, and you were to go in at this end, where would you come out?”
“Out of the hole, sir,” replied the pupil with an air of triumph.

In 1913, memories of the Civil War remained in the minds of many, though the old veterans were beginning to fade away. But this joke could apply to any war:

After the battle of Chancellorsville, two Union soldiers, tramping along through the Virginia mud up to their knees, stopped for a rest by the roadside and had a little heart-to-heart talk.
“What did we enlist as a soldier for anyway?” asked Jack. “What made you go into the army, Tom?”
“Well,” replied Tom, “I had no wife and I loved war, and so I went. What made you go?”
“Well,” said Jack, “it was just the other way with me — I had a wife, and I loved peace, and so I went.”

Another Civil War joke:

A captain fresh from civil life and grand in a brand new uniform, happened to observe two men shooting at a target.
“Here, boys,” said he, “let me show you how to shoot.”
Taking a gun in hand, he fired and missed.
“That,” said he to one of the soldiers, “is the way you shoot.”
He fired again, and missed again.
“And that,” said he, turning to the other soldier, “is the way you shoot.”
He fired a third shot, and hit the bull’s-eye.
“And that,” said he, “is the way I shoot.”

When “Laugh Again” came out, the great writer Samuel Clemens had only been dead for three years and plenty of people still had stories to tell about him.

One tale involved philanthropy. Clemens had volunteered to furnish his autograph at 50 cents a card to raise money for some charity. Hundreds lined up to buy a card and walked off delighted to not only have been in the presence of such a great writer, but to have left with his signature.
But one woman wanted more.
“Please do write for me some little sentiment, beside your name,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have the time,” replied Clemens, “and it would not be fair to the others.”
“Oh, you must, Mr. Twain,” she persisted, “and I expect it of you.”
When Twain started to protest again, the woman said:
“If you cannot write a little thought, Mr. Twain, just write one word…You are too gallant to refuse a lady’s request. Write just one word and sign your name.”
Finally, Twain graciously took the card and honored her request. He wrote:
“1 word, Mark Twain.”

The headline over the next joke reads “O Henry,” but the only connection between the anecdote that follows and the short-story writer who spent time in Texas is a the name of one of the protagonists and a surprise ending:

He was idealistic and quite poetical. She was quite practical—a very good matrimonial combination.

He came home one evening after a hard day at the office and said, “Maria, my dear, do you realize that tomorrow will be our wooden wedding [anniversary]? We ought to celebrate the occasion somehow, don’t you think?”

And she said, “Hank, my darling, I know it. Been thinking about it all day, and have it all arranged. I have ordered a big wagon load of kindling to be delivered tomorrow afternoon, and you will come home early from the office and carry it into the cellar!”

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